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Going to the grocery store is one of my favorite community based instruction experiences. When I taught middle school, we were lucky to be right down the street from a grocery store, so we could walk there easily. There are lots of things we can work on in the grocery store. Many of my students have limited community experiences at home because of behavior or sensory concerns. I like to start working on getting students out into the community in middle school so they are used to it when they are in high school or a post-high setting.

Community Based Instruction at the Grocery Store with bagged groceries


Because I taught middle school, I didn't work a ton on vocational skills at this age. We didn't worry about bagging or stocking groceries because it wasn't age-appropriate. I like to think about what other middle schoolers do when they go to the grocery store. It's a popular hangout spot being right down the street, so I can observe them in action! 😂 They are buying candy and soda and hanging out with their friends. They are not fully grocery shopping on their own but may go with their parents. So these are the skills I want to work on while beginning to prepare my students to fully grocery shop on their own. Here are some skills we work on prior to our trips.

Writing a grocery list

This is a great age-appropriate skill. I like to pull out real recipes to use to make a list of the needed ingredients. My students who are not yet writing use a cut and paste option or letter stamps. I have a free grocery list writing activity in my store. You can grab it here.

Let's Write a Grocery List Freebie

Identifying food groups/ sections of the store

In order to effectively grocery shop, you have to know where foods are generally located. Apples can be found in the product section, milk in the dairy section, and so on. We work on sorting foods into the correct food group/ section of the store. I had some random toy grocery foods from a math curriculum, and these worked great for a hands-on sorting activity. You could also use pictures or store ads.

play grocery foods toy and basket

Reading signage

Since we walk to the grocery store, we practice identifying common signs in the community, as well as signs inside the grocery store. I use Reading in Real Life: Grocery Edition to teach common grocery words, including signs like "Cart Return" and "Employees Only."

grocery store sight words mini adapted books

grocery store sight words task cards

Making a purchase

This, of course, is an essential skill for the grocery store. Before heading to the store, we role-play and practice counting out our money to make a purchase. Some students work on using exact change, some students use the Next Dollar/ Dollar Up method, and some students work on swiping their debit cards. It all depends on the level of the student and their IEP goals.

Asking for help

Now if you're like me, you grocery shop online so you don't have to ask for help 😂, BUT it's still a skill we have to have when we visit an actual store. First, I model what this looks like in the store. Then, if possible, I like to have each student practice asking an employee for help.

Calculating best cost

This is something we do all the time when we grocery shop that we need to explicitly teach our students. If I want to buy a loaf of bread, there are tons of options. I first need to narrow it down to the type of bread I want, and then from there, I can determine which is the best price. We can even work on calculating the price of an item on sale or understanding the concept of "on sale."


I have my grocery list but now I need to figure out if I can afford everything on it. Budgeting is an essential skill when shopping for anything. I love to use my Grocery Store Budgeting Unit to practice this prior to going to the grocery store. You can try a free sample here.

grocery store budgeting unit

Favorite Grocery Store Resources

Here are some of my favorite resources for preparing for a grocery store community experience.

Can't wait to hear about your grocery store CBI experience! Leave a comment and let me know how it went!

Miss Lulu Special Ed Signature




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